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WESA Daily Briefing: June 16, 2020

Erin Keane Scott
90.5 WESA

News on the coronavirus pandemic, protests, 2020 election and more from around Pittsburgh, Allegheny County and southwestern Pennsylvania. 

Find all of the WESA Daily Briefing posts here

Editor's note: This post will be frequently updated with the latest news.


5:12 p.m. - Peaceful protest marches through Downtown, singles out Post-Gazette

Protesters gathered in Downtown Pittsburgh this afternoon to mark another day of peaceful demonstrations in support of the Black Lives Matter movement.

About 200 protesters wound through downtown Pittsburgh, denouncing police violence against black people.

Organizers also singled out the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which recently pulled a black reporter from covering recent protests for what the editors described as a biased tweet.

The reporter is suing the paper for discrimination.

Demonstrators sang and chanted “black lives matter” as they wound from the City-County Building to the August Wilson Center, where they held a sit-in.

Speakers denounced the police killings of George Floyd, Antwon Rose II, and Breonna Taylor. They also spoke out in favor of stronger laws that would prosecute police involved in these shootings.

There were no incidents with police.

4:59 p.m. - Highmark is expanding its geographic footprint into New York

The Pittsburgh-based health insurer will become the primary licensee of a Health-Now, a Buffalo-based insurance company. Pending regulatory approval, Health-Now will be rebranded as Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield of Western New York and Highmark Blue Shield of Northeastern New York. Through the agreement, Highmark will insure nearly six million residents of Pennsylvania, New York, Delaware and West Virginia. 
3:41 p.m. - Pennsylvania sees 3rd straight day of under 400 infections

Pennsylvania has recorded a third straight day of under 400 new positive coronavirus tests, according to Department of Health data Tuesday, the longest such stretch since new cases began regularly exceeding that level in late March.

Still, the number of people dying from it daily remains in the dozens.

Officials reported 33 additional deaths and 362 new positive cases of the coronavirus Tuesday. That brings the state's totals to nearly 80,000 cases and 6,276 deaths since early March.

Of those, 75 percent have recovered, the department said.

The number of infections is thought to be far higher than the state’s confirmed case count because many people have not been tested and studies suggest people can be infected without feeling sick.

For most people, the virus causes mild or moderate symptoms that clear up in a couple of weeks. Older adults and people with existing health problems are at higher risk of more severe illness, including pneumonia, or death.

2:46 p.m. - Butler Health System announces layoffs

Financial strain caused by the coronavirus pandemic is being blamed for some job losses locally in health care.  On Monday, The Butler Health System announced it was laying off 57 employees and furloughing ten others.  Butler Health in a news release also says 60 vacant positions have been eliminated and will not be filled. The Butler Health System operates facilities including Butler Memorial Hospital and Clarion Hospital.

BHS says it has lost tens of millions of dollars over the past several months due to increased costs combined with severely decreased revenues.
2:36 p.m. - A bear on the loose

Pittsburgh Public Safety reports a bear is loose in Highland Park and is asking people to avoid the area.   

12:07 p.m. - Reporter Alexis Johnson files federal suit against Post-Gazette

Credit Shantale Davis

An attorney for one of the black journalists at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who the paper barred from covering police brutality protests after claiming she was biased, filed a federal civil lawsuit against the paper Tuesday morning.

According to attorney Sam Cordes, who is representing reporter Alexis Johnson, the newspaper’s actions violated the Civil Rights Act of 1866 for retaliating against someone who opposes or protests race discrimination.  

Read more here.

11:36 a.m. – Former state House speaker to work for Peoples Gas

Mike Turzai, who resigned as speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Monday, has been appointed as general counsel for Peoples Natural Gas. The North Shore-based utility owned by Essential Utilities, Inc. announced the move Tuesday.

Turzai, who represented Pennsylvania’s 28th legislative district for nearly two decades, has a history of supporting the shale gas industry. He pushed back against Gov. Tom Wolf’s multiple severance tax proposals on gas extraction.

Turzai will report to Christopher Luning, executive vice president, general counsel and secretary for Essential Utilities.

“I look forward to working with Mike in his role as general counsel for Peoples. The 28th Legislative District is located in the heart of western Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry. Mike is well aware of the opportunities and challenges of this growing industry. His background and expertise will benefit our customers and the communities we serve,” Luning said.

Turzai announced his plans to resign last week.  

9:46 a.m. - Post-Gazette executive editor defends newspaper's protest coverage decisions on Fox News

Keith Burris went on Fox News' Monday night to defend the newspaper's decision to bar two black reporters, Alexis Johnson and Michael Santiago, from protest coverage. Fox's Laura Ingram said "the facts don't matter to the new, woke left," while pointing to Burris' editorial that ran following the newspaper's decision.  

"It's the power of the big lie and the mob, the Twitter mob," Burris told Ingrahm while explaining how he thinks the newspaper's move became a national story. "This is a fabrication."

Watch the full video here: 

7:32 a.m. - Big win for LGBT rights, but fight's not over in PA

A U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday will extend legal protection to gay, lesbian and transgender people from discrimination at certain workplaces across all of Pennsylvania, but a years-long fight in the state Legislature isn't over. LGBT rights advocates in Pennsylvania said the court’s ruling doesn't cover people who work for smaller employers, and it doesn't extend legal protection against discrimination to housing or public services. Advocates want to add sexual orientation and gender identity or expression to a state law that empowers the state Human Relations Commission to investigate complaints of discrimination in employment, housing and public services because of someone’s race, sex, religion, age or disability. The commission can impose civil penalties. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette talked to local LGBTQ groups that celebrated in the wake of the decision Monday

The Associated Press contributed to this report.